People often think that bees are always working, hence the “busy bee” nickname. While bees do work very vigorously, like all other creatures, they too need a bit of rest. However, unlike other creatures, their activity patterns depend on many factors and are intertwined with their unique social systems.
Worker bees have a very different activity schedule than forager bees. However, as a whole, beehives do have times of the day and year when they are least active; which tend to be during early morning/night, or in winter or extreme weather.
It’s important to know when bees are least and most active so that you remain a responsible and caring beekeeper. Not only will it prevent harming the bees, but it will also protect you from being harmed as well.
Factors that Alter Bees’ Activity
Although bees typically remain on a strict schedule, some factors will alter their behavior. The most significant factors to change a bee’s schedule are temperature, lousy weather, seasons, and social structure.
Like other creatures, bees are severely affected by extreme temperature conditions. When temperatures rise above 90-100F, you’ll notice your bees’ activity and behavior start to change.
First, when temperatures are high, worker and forager bees will start to come outside the hive to “beard.” Named after the congregated bees look outside of the hive, bearding is when much of the colony gathers outside the hive to fan it out and prevent overheating. This behavior occurs because when a hive reaches above 95F, the following can occur:
- Brood, or immature bees, can die
- Beeswax can melt
- Queen can die
Since all of these are dramatic losses to bees, workers will do everything to prevent it.
In addition, bees will be more aggressive since they are working hard to protect their hive and are in a stressful situation. Thus, hot temperatures are a bad time to interact with your bees.
Bees’ activity will also change when it is too cold outside. Bees can’t fly when temperatures are below 50F, so they will not fly out of the hive until temperatures are above this threshold. However, during cold weather (and especially during winter), bees will remain active inside to maintain the ideal temperature of 95F. At this point, worker bees are assigned to vibrate and move their wings to insulate the hive. This is why interacting with bees during cold weather is also wrong.
Bees will also change their activity levels during inclement weather. Because rain, snow, or wind can make forager bees’ jobs harder, they are less active during this time. In addition, they tend to be more aggressive during bad weather – likely because they are prohibited from getting their job done. Try to avoid working with them during bad weather as much as possible.
Worker Vs. Forager Bee
While there are certain times when bees will be less active, their activity also depends on what part of their social hierarchy they find themselves in. Forager bees have a set schedule due to environmental factors, but worker bees don’t have as many limitations. Because they mostly stay inside the hive, these bees will “nap” throughout the day and night and remain active throughout the night.
Why It Matters
Beekeepers should care about when their bees are least active, as it impacts the health and success of their bee colony in various ways.
In spring, timing interactions with your bees can allow you to predict and respond to swarms.
Bees swarm when their colony is getting too populated. At this time, around half of the hive will kick the queen and the other half out to find a new place to populate. From there, a swarm of bees will hang around somewhere outside the hive until they find their new home. Beekeepers often try to capitalize on the swarming tendency to gain another bee colony for free.
Less Chance of You Harming Bees
In addition to swarming, finding when your bees are least/most active is crucial to not harming them. Since hive inspections and honey harvests inevitably harm/kill some bees in the process, responsible beekeepers should always look to do these when bees are most active, and the least number of them are in the hive.
Less Chance of Bees Harming You
Lastly, interacting with your bees at a time that is most convenient and least harmful for them will lead to fewer stings and less protective behavior for you.
When to Interact with Bees
So, when should a beekeeper interact with their bees? Opposite to intuitive thought, a beekeeper should perform hive inspections and harvest honey when the hive is most active.
The best time to do so is when bees are at their peak activity. At this time, bees are very preoccupied with the task at hand and much less protective of their hive. In addition, this is when the least number of bees will be in the hive.
Other times not to interact with bees are during winter or night. During winter, interacting heavily with bees can cool their hive to dangerously low levels. Interacting with them during the night can lead to protective behavior as honey bees do not have night vision.
What Time of Day Are Bees Least Active, & Most Active?
That being said, when are bees least active, and when are they most active?
Because of environmental factors, bees are least active during the following times:
- Early morning and night
- Inclement Weather
- Extreme Temperatures (too hot or too cold)
Again, because of environmental factors, bees are most active somewhere around mid-afternoon. After temperatures reach above 50F, forager bees will begin collecting nectar.
When temperatures are close to the high for the day (assuming the weather isn’t too extreme), most forager bees will be out looking for flowers to pollinate. Thus, mid-afternoon will often be the best time to perform hive inspections and harvest honey.
Bees have unique, set schedules. However, some environmental and social factors will alter a bee’s schedule – including temperature, inclement weather, season, and where they land in the social hierarchy.
The timing of bees’ activity matters because it affects both the beekeeper and the bees. If hives are interacted with during inappropriate times, beekeepers may unintentionally harm the bees, and the beekeeper can be stung. In addition, beekeepers might miss the opportunity to catch a swarm if they don’t interact with their bees at the right time.
Thus, it’s essential to know the best time to interact with your bees. When they are busiest will be the most appropriate time to either do hive inspections or harvest honey as the least amount of bees in the hive, and they will be too preoccupied to be aggressive.
That being said, bees are most active during sunny, mild weather in the mid-afternoon. Bees are least active during winter, night, and other times when weather and temperatures are extreme.